Leek Murderer or Fall-Guy?

John Nadin was born on the outskirts of Leek, probably during the 1690s, to poor but honest parents who taught him to read and write. He obtained employment as a servant with Robert Brough at White Lee, Wincle, on the Staffordshire-Cheshire border. He worked diligently until the ‘sweet allurements’ of Robert’s wife, who ‘with wanton delicacies and fair promises’ drew him into a fatal snare that ended his life on a summer’s day in 1731.

Mary was considerably younger than her husband Robert. They had married at Prestbury in 1718, when he was thirty-nine and she just twenty-two. Nadin had not been long in the service of Robert when Mary first approached him suggesting how much better life would be for her and Nadin if only she was free of her husband. To this she suggested that Nadin should murder Robert. At first Nadin was shocked and refused, but her continual pestering weakened his resistance and eventually he agreed.

Meanwhile rumours began to circulate in the village that Mary was having an affair with Nadin. When Robert heard these he quickly dismissed the rumours as Nadin had actually saved his life on one occasion when he had fallen into the flooded River Dane. However, as the whispering continued, Robert was unable to bear the rumours any longer and dismissed Nadin from his service. This, it appears, was the catalyst for Nadin to conform to the pleas of his mistress. Nadin performed the deed on the same day as his dismissal when his master was returning from Leek Fair on the outskirts of Meerbrook.

Immediately after the incident Nadin stopped for a drink at the Inn at Danebridge. It was here where his unnatural behaviour, blooded hands and clothes were noticed by the barmaid. She informed the local constable and the following day Nadin was apprehended and appeared before the Justices of the Peace where he protested his innocence. However, the evidence appeared sufficient to commit him to Stafford Gaol on June 25th. Here he was held until standing trial at the next assize court on August 19th. During the trial Nadin continued to protest his innocence and pleaded not guilty.

Robert’s wife suggested to Nadin that he swear that one William Wardle, a prisoner in the same gaol, as being the person who committed the murder. However, a number of credible witnesses spoke of Wardle’s good character and he was acquitted. With the failure of his attempt to place the blame on Wardle, Nadin was tried for murder and found guilty.

The judge passed sentence ordering that on Tuesday August 31st 1731 Nadin was to be taken to his former master’s door where he committed the murder and there hanged until he was dead. Six days after the trial, on August 26th, while incarcerated in Stafford Gaol, Nadin wrote his confession. What follows is an abridged version:

I, John Nadin, do confess that I am guilty of the murder of my master Robert Brough by cutting his throat with his own knife. What prompted me to this most wicked act was that unlawful familiarity I had with my mistress, the wife of Robert Brough. I had never attempted such familiarity had she not made me first of the same. Soon after this about three or four years ago, she gave me a ring and expressed he love to me, and said if anything happened to my master she should be very happy with me in the procedure of our acquaintance. She continued often making such like propositions, but towards the last she solicited me to murder him or have him murdered adding that if I would not do it she would have it done. On the morning of that fatal day when the murder was committed. I enjoyed my said mistress twice, and then concluded with her to murder my master, he being determined to part with me from his service. I accordingly followed him to Leek and on his return did take his life. Soon after I came to my master’s house acquainted my mistress with what I had done. Afterwards when the family was gone to bed she went out to the place where my master was murdered and rifled his pockets and threw away the knife wherewith I committed the murder. In the meantime I beg forgiveness from all I have injured and do declare and solemnly affirm this my confession to be exactly true as I am a dying man and expect in a few short days to appear before the great tribunal of the Great God of Heaven. In witness, this 27th day of August, 1731. John Nadin.

After his condemnation Nadin was visited frequently by the Reverend William Corn. The clergyman also accompanied Nadin on his journey from Stafford to Leek the night before he was hanged. The following morning he administered the sacrament and accompanied him from Leek to the place of execution, along with psalm singers from Leek, Bosley and Wincle. The makeshift gallows were an apple tree in his victim’s garden.

At midday he ascended the ladder lifting up his hands and shaking his head he desired Wardle to forgive him. About forty-five minutes later his lifeless body was cut down and carried to Gun Heath near Dane Bridge and hanged in chains. Here it remained on the 21ft high gibbet until it fell apart.

As for Mary, eventually she was tried for her part in the events, and found guilty. Her children were taken away from her and she was committed to live alone in a small remote cottage. Mary’s attempt to be free of her husband failed with an ironic twist as both are buried in Bosley churchyard – Robert on June 26th 1731, and Mary on September 21st 1735.

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